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Mary Slessor

1848-1915. Missionary to West Africa. Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, and brought up in Dundee, she came of a very poor family, but her mother was a devout Christian deeply interested in the United Presbyterian Church's Calabar Mission. Mary was converted in her teens, and after experience of youth work in the Dundee slums she sailed for Nigeria in 1876 and worked there almost continuously until her death, first in the Okoyong area and then at Itu among the Ibo people. She fought against witchcraft, drunkenness, twin-killing, and other cruel customs. She believed in “the daily mixing with the people” to break down suspicion and fear. She acquired great skill in the languages and had an almost uncanny insight into the African mind.

Such was her influence over men that even the most savage and powerful chiefs made her a trusted arbiter in disputes of all kinds. She was instrumental in establishing trade between the coast and inland areas to their benefit, and in beginning the Hope Waddell Institution to train Africans in useful trades and to carry out medical work. She became the first woman vice-consul in the British Empire when British rule was established in the area. She had an unusual combination of qualities, humor and seriousness, roughness and tenderness, vision and practicality. These with a cool nerve and disregard for personal health and comfort helped to make her a powerful influence for Christianity. As a result of her work under God the Ibo people became more Christian than tribes in other parts of Nigeria.

See W.P. Livingstone, Mary Slessor of Calabar, the White Queen (1916).